Before we dig into the finer nuances of viral marketing optimization, let’s recap. In the last chapter, we covered:
- Viral Marketing Structure and the 6 magical questions to successfully map your viral loop
That’s the first phase of Creating Your Viral Marketing Engine. Now let’s take a look at the next. Viral Panda’s class on becoming a optimization Viral Hero is now in session.
Viral Marketing Optimization: Two Magical Steps to a Successful Company
There are two initial steps to building a successful business:
- Get people in the door (acquisition)
- Once they’re in the door, get them to repeatedly buy more (optimization)
Okay, you’re right. This may be an overly-simplified view. But both of these are critical steps. And BOTH can be accomplished through viral marketing optimization. Many newbie founders or marketers assume the first one is the most important (or sometimes even the ONLY) step to success. They believe if they could just only get people in the door, those people will come to their senses and realize that they need to buy their products.
After all, your product is the most amazing product to have ever been created in the history of humanity . . . right? Wrong.
Optimize Conversions the Right Way
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the process of making it more likely that the people who walk through your door will take a conversion action (such as buying what you’re selling).
When done right, the optimization process is a continuous (and lucrative) cycle:
This is identical to the process taught by Eric Reis in The Lean Startup. It may seem basic, but this iteration loop is the bedrock of optimization.
You’ve likely seen this all before, but I wanted to go over the foundations of optimization first in order to show you some of the things you likely haven’t seen anywhere else.
CRO and Viral Marketing Optimization
We’ve established that viral marketing can be powerful if used correctly. But how powerful can it be? Let’s say you’ve got a product with the potential to be very viral on a per-user basis. As such, it has a viral coefficient (or K factor) of 2.0. (This is obscenely high, but let’s just use it as an example for now.) We’ll explain exactly how to calculate viral coefficient in a later section – but in a nutshell, a K factor of 2.0 means every user that comes to your site will recruit 2 more users for you.
Scenario 1: 5 Day Cycle Time
Let’s say it takes a user 5 days to recruit those 2 users for you. Let’s also assume that you’ve recruited 10 of your friends to be your very first 10 users. After 20 days, you’ll have a little over 300 users. Wow, that’s awesome! And I didn’t even have to pay anything – where do I sign up?? But wait, there’s more . . . .
Scenario 2: 2 Day Cycle Time
Let’s say you do a little viral marketing optimization and you engage in the same types of tactics you’d engage in to optimize a sales funnel. Only this time you apply them to optimizing your viral loop (i.e. the actions users need to take to complete the invite process).
You make some solid improvements to the speed and efficiency, and by doing so you shave down the cycle time of your viral loop. Everything else remains the same, but it now takes a user only 2 days to recruit those same 2 users.
If we run the scenario over again, after the same 20 day period, you’d end up with over 20,000 users. Pretty wild, isn’t it?
This all comes down to the fact that your viral factor is so high that you can expect exponential growth. You’ve now allowed for more viral loops to happen because there’s more time for more waves of invites to be sent out by more people during that same 20 day period. That’s a whole lot of “more.”
And it is a big reason why viral marketing is so powerful.
But we’re not done yet . . . .
Scenario 3: 24 Hour Cycle Time
Let’s say you’re able to optimize that process yet again.
By adding a few extra improvements – such as making it easier to invite more people at once or figuring out a way to immediately show users the value in inviting others – you shave that cycle time down to just one single day. Run the same 20-day scenario over again and you end up with over 20 million users. What?? Yep.
But let’s not start congratulating ourselves for being so hypothetically awesome quite yet. Is this a feasible example that anyone can use to build a billion-dollar company? Unfortunately, it’s not QUITE that simple.
The example above describes an inherently viral product with a viral factor considerably higher than 1.0, which isn’t possible for 99.9% of products out there. Even in the fringe cases where it is, it’s not a sustainable number for very long. These scenarios also assume you’re solving a real problem, offering real value, and have a few really smart people who are able to map your viral loop in detail to improve it bit by bit.
That said, the example above SHOULD be dramatic enough to get my point across. Which is that viral marketing optimization is the most important and impactful form of optimization you can do for your product when it comes to growth. Even if you’re able to increase your viral factor from 0.2 to 0.25, or you shave a few hours off your cycle time, the difference over the course of a month or a year can be the most significant improvement you make all year long.
How To Get Started with Viral Marketing Optimization
It’s a lot easier than you might think to get started with viral optimization. All you need is a good behavioral analytics tool (i.e. Google Analytics or Mixpanel) and a way to create a diagram. For diagramming, I like services like LucidChart, but hell, a good ol’ fashioned piece of paper and a pen will work just fine.
Step 1 – Map your viral loop
- Create a visualization of every single step a user NEEDS to take from the time they are first exposed to your product to the point they expose somebody else to it.
- Create a second visualization of every step a user CURRENTLY takes to do the same thing.
Step 2 – Find your Value Hook Point (VHP)
- Log where the two visualizations you’ve created in Step 1 don’t match up.
- You’ll see exactly where and when users acquire enough value from your product to trust it, and realize the value in passing on your product enough to actually take action.
- This is your Viral Hook Point.
Step 3 – Add conversion metrics for each step
- Using your analytics tools, add metrics to each step in your current viral loop. These can include click-through rates, average time on page, bounce rates, etc.
- If you can, segment some of this data to show how different subsets of users behave differently.
- Try to hypothesize as to why that’s the case. This will help you pinpoint bottlenecks.
Step 4 – Run simulations and prioritize your focus
- Based on the visualization you’ve now created, create a simple spreadsheet with a field showing traffic into the entry point of your loop. That’s phase one of your viral loop.
- Create subset fields for each subsequent phase of your viral loop. Structure their formulas to apply the conversion rate from that phase to the traffic flowing to it from the one before it.
- Go through each phase and list the potential improvements you could make, as well as a conservative estimate of how much it might improve the data for that phase.
- Run the simulation you created on the spreadsheet, making a note of the overall impact that each proposed improvement would have on the final numbers individually.
- Rank your task list, prioritizing the estimated highest-impact changes you’ve identified.
Test, Test, and Test Some More
Early on, many of your tests will yield big improvements because there’s so much low-hanging fruit. However, once you’ve spent a fair chunk of time on optimization, it’s likely that most of your tests will fail.
But when you reach the point where you’re relatively well-optimized with your current architecture, some of your tests WILL continually succeed and in big ways. Especially if you have smart, capable people interpreting your data and forming hypotheses.
Speed matters here.
The quicker you iterate on versions of each page, the quicker you’ll learn why your users behave the way they do. And the quicker you’ll see success in growing more virally.
- High Tempo Testing – Release an iteration every 2 days and you might see success in 2 weeks.
- “Just often enough to say we do it” – Release an iteration every 3-4 weeks and it might take half a year to nail your model.
Use A/B testing and optimization techniques on all the steps of your viral loop as much as possible. Pay close attention to metrics like:
- Sources of traffic
- Landing page views
- % of users that register
- % of users that send invites
- # of invites sent per user on average
- # of invites sent per invite session
- % of invites delivered successfully
- % of invites viewed by users
- # of virally-added users per user on average
Optimizing all of these metrics individually will help make spreading your product feel efficient, valuable and necessary for the user.
Optimize What You Know
To be clear, you do NOT need hundreds of viral features to succeed. You only need a small few viral features as long as these features create value in an intuitive way.
Even huge sites like LinkedIn that have thousands of product features, only have a few significant viral loops. The takeaway is not to try and spread yourself too thin, and concentrate on the ones that will have the highest impact. (Wondering what those features might be? Our list of the 12 types of viral marketing is great place to start.) Then you can go about optimizing those for maximum performance.
If you’re already schooled in CRO you’ll have a huge head start here as there are a TON of resources out there on conversion optimization. In fact, a select few CRO-savvy folks are able to unlock new traffic sources that their competitors can’t because of how optimized their site is for conversions. This allows them on average to pay more for acquiring visitors as those visitors will turn into customers far more often.
So do yourself a favor and learn about testing and optimization theory and tools first. Then and ONLY then should you start with viral marketing optimization. The impact can (potentially) mean the difference between startup life and death.
An optimized viral loop is critical, but it relies heavily on one core thing: value. It is the end-all, be-all foundation that your entire viral campaign will hinge on. You’re probably not surprised by the fact viral marketing relies on value, but you’re also likely not utilizing it to the level that you will after reading the next chapter.
The Foundation of All Viral Marketing is the Value It Provides
I’ve preached this time and time again – and while most believe they know about viral value, they still don’t practice it. To do so, you must look at everything from the perspective of a user who has no allegiance to you or your success.
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